Parsha Potpourri: Pesach 5771

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L’shana HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim (Haggadah Shel Pesach)

The Pesach Seder begins with a prayer: this year we are here, next year we should be in the land of Israel. The Haggadah also ends with this same theme, next year in Jerusalem. This is somewhat unusual, as we don’t find such an emphasis on praying for the redemption on other festivals. The reason that we do so on Pesach is that a complete Seder must include the consumption of the Korban Pesach, which can only be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, which is currently in ruins.

However, once we are focusing on our desire for the speedy rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash, it is surprising that nowhere in the Haggadah do we discuss why we in fact presently lack the Temple and work on rectifying the sins which brought about its destruction. The Gemora teaches (Yoma 9b) teaches that the second Temple was destroyed because of the sin of baseless hatred, and it will not be rebuilt until we correct the problem of fighting and divisiveness. In light of this, it would seem appropriate to address this sin at some point and to help us take corrective action to atone for it.

The Ben Ish Chai suggests that this concept is in fact found in the Haggadah. It is alluded to by the question in which we point out that on all other nights, we do not dip even one time, but tonight we dip twice. He explains that the first dipping at the Seder, in which we dip the vegetable into salt water, is intended to remind us of the first time that dipping is mentioned in the Torah, when Yosef’s brothers dipped his clothing into blood in order to deceive Yaakov into thinking that he had been killed by a wild animal. This act represents the sin of baseless hatred which led to our enslavement in Egypt, and from which we have suffered as a nation throughout the generations.

The second dipping that we do at the Seder, dipping the maror into the charoses, corresponds to the second act of dipping that we find in the Torah. In Parshas Bo (Shemos 12:22), Hashem commanded the Jewish people to take a bundle of hyssop – and dip it in the blood of the Passover-offering, which they then placed on their doorposts in order to protect themselves from the plague of the slaying of the first-born.

The Ben Ish Chai points out that that in discussing this second dipping, the Torah uses the term “agudah,” which refers to a bundle that is bound together. This symbolizes the concept of Jewish unity, and it was precisely this sense of togetherness which rectified the sin of the original dipping of Yosef’s brothers, and which therefore enabled them to be freed from their bitter servitude in Egypt.

As we go through the Seder, it is critical that we reflect upon and internalize the message of the two dippings. Just as we were enslaved in Egypt due to the jealousy of Yosef’s brothers but were freed when we united and came together as one nation, so too the only way for us to be redeemed from our current exile, which was also brought about through the sins of hatred and divisiveness, is to promote peace and harmony among all Jews. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we begin the Seder by saying, “whoever is hungry, let him come and eat,” as we express our desire to bring everybody together to eat the Passover-offering together with us, which we should all merit to do this year.

Hava nischakma lo (Shemos 1:10)

The Gemora in Sotah (11a) records that three of Pharaoh’s advisors were consulted regarding his concerns about the Jewish population. Bilaam suggested the wicked plan and was ultimately punished by being killed, Iyov remained silent and was punished with tremendous afflictions, and Yisro fled because he disagreed with the plan and was rewarded with descendants who were righteous Torah scholars and judges. Why did Bilaam, who deserved the harshest punishment for his active role in Pharaoh’s diabolical scheme, get off relatively easily with an instant death while Iyov was forced to suffer tortuous pains throughout his life?

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that this question stems from a fundamental error. Rashi writes (Kiddushin 80b) that being alive is the greatest present and kindness that Hashem could ever give a person, regardless of what difficulties may transpire in his life. Dovid HaMelech – who was no stranger to suffering – expressed this idea explicitly (Tehillim 118:18): Hashem afflicted me greatly, but at least He didn’t give me over to death.

Rav Shmuelevitz adds that a person who doesn’t appreciate the gift of life may have it taken away from him. The Daas Z’keinim quotes a Medrash which teaches that Yaakov died prematurely as a punishment for complaining to Pharaoh (Bereishis 47:8-9) that his life had been bitter and painful. Hashem answered him, “I saved you from Lavan and from Eisav, and I returned to you Dina and Yosef, and you complain about your difficult life!? If so, I will shorten your life by 33 years, one year for each word of your complaint to Pharaoh. Your father lived until 180, but you will only live until 147!” The mathematics of this Medrash are difficult to understand. Counting Yaakov’s words yields only 25. Where are the additional eight words for which he was punished?

Rav Shmuelevitz answers that in order to arrive at 33, we must begin counting from Pharaoh’s question at the beginning of the verse, which yields the desired additional eight words. While this produces the appropriate number, it begs another question. Even if Yaakov deserved to be punished for talking in a manner which seemed to demonstrate a lack of gratitude to Hashem, why should he be punished for Pharaoh’s question as well?

Rav Shmuelevitz explains that it isn’t respectful to ask an old person about his age, and certainly not to inquire about it immediately upon meeting him. Why did Pharaoh ask Yaakov about his age? Yaakov must have appeared so aged and ragged from his travails that Pharaoh was astonished at seeing such an elderly-looking person still alive, to the point that he couldn’t help but ask how hold he was. Had Yaakov accepted his suffering properly, it wouldn’t have caused him to appear so ancient. He was punished for Pharaoh’s question, as it was the feeling of bitterness evident in his answer which indirectly prompted the question in the first place.

With this introduction, we now understand that the excruciating agony of Iyov is still considered infinitely preferable to the quick death of Bilaam due to the sheer fact that Iyov remained alive. As we suffer various difficulties throughout our lives, it behooves us to recall this lesson. Perhaps every time that we recite the aforementioned verse in Tehillim during Hallel, we should focus on internalizing this idea that we must be eternally grateful to Hashem for the wonderful gift that we call life.

Vay’tzav Paroh l’kol amo leimor kol ha’ben ha’yilod hayeorah tashlichuhu v’kol ha’bas techayun (1:22)

Approximately two weeks after the birth of one of his daughters, Rabbi S. went into her room to check on her before retiring for the night … only to find her blue and unconscious! He and his wife immediately raced her to the nearest hospital, but when giving her over to the emergency room doctors, he didn’t know if he’d ever see her again. Fortunately, she received proper medical treatment, was quickly nursed back to health, and hasn’t had any further medical problems.

What makes this story remarkable is that the father of Rabbi S was a well-known philanthropist who, 9 months before this episode, donated money to an old synagogue in Jerusalem to enable them to check their Sifrei Torah for the first time in more than 80 years. To their astonishment, the Sefer Torah from which they had been reading every week for close to a century was found to be invalid. The last 3 words of our verse were written “v’kol ha’bayis techayun” – the additional “yud” rendered the entire Sefer Torah unfit.

As aghast as the congregation was at the error, they promptly corrected it and thought nothing further of the incident. However, nine months later, a little girl who was fighting for her life was saved, perhaps in the merit that just around the time of her conception, her generous grandfather enabled the correction of a disqualified Sefer Torah by removing the extra letter so that the verse would correctly read, “And all of the girls shall live.”

Vaya’as Hashem es ha’dever hazeh mimacharas vayamas kol mikneh Mitzrayim u’mimikneh B’nei Yisroel lo meis echad vayishlach Paroh v’hinei lo meis mi’mikneh Yisroel ad echad vayichbad lev Paroh v’lo shilach es ha’am (9:6-7)

The Vilna Gaon is bothered by several apparent inconsistencies in the Torah’s description of the damage done by the plague of pestilence. Initially, the Torah states that not a single animal belonging to the Jews died. However, the wording of the second verse indicates that although not more than one Jew lost animals, one Jew did indeed suffer at the hands of the plague. Additionally, the first verse discusses “the animals of the children of Israel,” while the latter refers simply to “the animals of Israel.”

Finally, as difficult as Pharaoh’s actions throughout this entire period are difficult to understand, there is generally some minimal logic to his stubbornness. Here, however, the Torah seems to indicate that hearing that the plague didn’t affect the animals of the Jews somehow caused him to further harden his heart, which seems quite counter-intuitive.

The Vilna Gaon brilliantly resolves all of these difficulties with a single piece of information. Rashi writes (2:11) that one of the Egyptian taskmasters set his eyes on a Jewish woman by the name of Shlomis bas Divri. One night he ordered her husband out of the house and entered pretending to be him, and a child was born from that union. However, the Ramban (Vayikra 24:10) quotes an opinion that before the Torah was given, a person’s nationality was determined by his father. If so, the son of the taskmaster and Shlomis was considered a non-Jew.

Although the first verse states that among the children of Israel, which refers to proper Jews, no animals died, the animals of Shlomis’s son were indeed stricken together with those of the Egyptians. It is to his animals that the second verse refers in hinting that one Jew – somebody viewed as a Jew even though in reality he wasn’t – was afflicted. Upon hearing the news that the Jews weren’t completely spared from the plague, Pharaoh attributed the entire episode to one big coincidence, and not surprisingly, he hardened his heart and refused to free the Jews.

 V’haya lachem l’mishmeres (12:6)

Rashi writes that Hashem wanted to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt, but when he examined their spiritual level, he found them lacking mitzvos and merits which would justify their salvation. He therefore gave them the two mitzvos of circumcising themselves and sacrificing and eating the Korban Pesach. Why specifically were these two mitzvos given more than any others?

There is a Talmudic concept (Kiddushin 39b) that Hashem doesn’t give us reward in this world for the mitzvos that we do. The Tevuos Shor explains the logic behind this maxim. Because a person doesn’t receive any punishment in this world if he neglects the performance of a positive commandment, he doesn’t receive any reward for its performance. According to this explanation, a person who refrains from transgressing a negative prohibition would receive reward in this world since violating the prohibition is punishable by kares (spiritual excision) or death or lashes at the hands of the Beis Din.

With this introduction, the Lev Aryeh (Chullin 142) explains that Hashem had a dilemma. He wanted to give the Jewish people mitzvos to perform in order to reward them, but He knew that there is no reward in this world for the performance of positive commandments. Therefore, He specifically gave them the mitzvos of circumcision and Korban Pesach, which are unique in that they are the only two positive commandments which are punishable in this world – by kares – and by performing them, the Jews could indeed be rewarded in this world.

Pesach Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Tur writes (Orach Chaim 417) that each of the three Biblical festivals is associated with one of the Avos, with Pesach corresponding to Avrohom Avinu. What connections between the two can you find? (Sifsei Chaim, Kuntres B’Inyanei Chag HaPesach by Rav Chanoch Karlenstein)

2)     Why does the Haggadah emphasize that the Torah addresses every type of child by separating them into four categories and speaking to each one on his level when most children don’t fall into any of the four categories and the category for most of them – the average child – is missing?

3)     What is the deep underlying connection between Moshe and water, as so many significant events in his life occurred there – being placed in the river at the age of three months, meeting his future wife at the well, warning Pharaoh about the plagues next to the river, splitting the Red Sea for the Jewish people and drowning the Egyptians in it, and eventually dying as a result of his sin in bringing forth water from the rock at Mei Merivah? (Mishmeres Ariel)

4)     The Medrash teaches that one of the merits for which the Jews were redeemed from Egypt was that they preserved their traditional dress and didn’t adopt the fashions of the Egyptians. Why did Hashem say (Shemos 3:22) that in addition to gold and silver vessels, they should also “borrow” the Egyptians’ clothing, and how could they wear these garments after generations of insulating themselves from such clothing? (Kli Yakar, Ayeles HaShachar, Meged Yosef)

5)     Rashi writes (7:19, 8:12) that Moshe was commanded to instruct Aharon to bring about the first 3 plagues because Moshe had gratitude to the river which had protected him when he was thrown into it as an infant and to the ground which had hidden the body of the Egyptian whom he slew. As the water and the ground were inanimate objects with no free will of their own to assist Moshe nor with any feelings to appreciate his expression of gratitude, why was he required to show them appreciation for their assistance? (Me’Rosh Amanah, Taam V’Daas, Darkei HaShleimus)

6)     The Gemora in Yoma (75a) teaches that with the exception of five tastes, the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it wanted it to taste like. During the 40-year sojourn of the Jews in the wilderness, were they able to fulfill their obligation to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach (12:18) by causing the Manna to taste like matzah? (Ritva Kiddushin 37b, Igra D’Kallah, Gilyonei HaShas Berachos 48b, Ayeles HaShachar 16:4, Chavatzeles HaSharon, M’rafsin Igri)

7)     The Torah prohibits (12:19) the ownership of chometz on Pesach. Is there any difference in regard to this prohibition whether a person possesses one kezayis (olive-size piece, the smallest amount for which a person transgresses) or several, or does he only transgress the prohibition one time regardless of the amount of chometz that he owns? (Elef HaMagen Orach Chaim 448)

8)     In the plague of the slaying the first-born (12:29), did Hashem kill only first-born males or also first-born females? (Shemos Rabbah 18:3)

9)     On the way out of Egypt, Hashem chose not to lead the Jewish people by way of the nearby land of the Philistines because He feared that when they would see a war there, they would get scared and return to Egypt (13:17). Indeed, the Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes (14:13) that when they were trapped at the Red Sea, one group of Jews suggested returning to Egypt. As scared as they may have been, why would they even want to consider returning to a land where they had been brutally enslaved, oppressed, and killed for more than two centuries, and where they would likely be punished even more for their attempted flight to freedom? (Noam HaMussar)

10)  In the blessing said in the morning following Krias Shema, we say: And You split the Red Sea, and You drowned the wicked sinners, and You brought across Your dear ones, and the water covered their oppressors and not a single one of them remained. Why is it written in a manner which seems far from chronologically accurate? (Siddur Rokeach, Ayeles HaShachar, Taam V’Daas)

11)  The Gemora in Megillah (10b) relates that when the Heavenly angels saw the punishment being meted out to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, they desired to sing Hashem’s praises, but Hashem answered them, “My handiwork and creations are drowning and you wish to sing!?” Why weren’t the Jews forbidden to sing the Shiras HaYam (15:1-19) for the same reason? (Maharsha Berachos 9b, Taam V’Daas; Rinas Yitzchok, Shiras Dovid, and Chavatzeles HaSharon Esther 6:11)

© 2011 by Oizer Alport.